In the past few years, employee advocacy has become the new buzzword in human resources. Now, it’s also taking corporate communications by storm. Encouraging your employees to be your champions could be the perfect answer as journalists increasingly seek out real stories on social media.
Companies like Cisco and Danske Bank are already experimenting with social media takeovers by their employees. While it may be a bit soon to sack your spokesperson, it is definitely time to give your employees the forum they deserve.
A source for journalists
A national survey of reporters at all large and midsize U.S. newspapers has revealed how reporters use social media to source stories. More than 20 percent say that Facebook is either an “important” or a “very important” tool for their reporting. And Twitter is held in the same high value by one in two journalists. They use it to find story-relevant information, conduct background research and find sources.
Of course, we could just keep on using our corporate social media accounts to send out boring press releases. But that’s not what the media wants. For journalists, employees are more authentic and more powerful sources of information than a spokesperson or even the CEO.
More trusted, more effective and more reach
Your employees and peers are considered to be more credible than your CEO or board of directors. They are obviously viewed as trustworthy sources for topics such as the treatment of employees or customers, but, surprisingly, also for information about financial earning and operational performance, business practices and crisis handling. Keep this in mind when you have a press story, whether it is on television, online or in print — nothing is more effective than the voice of your employees.
Collectively, their voice is also louder. Employees typically have a social media following that is ten times larger than that of their employer. Research by Linkedin reveals that:
"One single employee sharing three items of content a day can add up to 23 million in additional reach over the course of a year. It can add up to 60,000 additional occasions when people engage with your content."
That is huge potential!
Trust your employees
The fact that your employees have become powerful communicators connected to your brand also carries risks.
Some employee stories created a buzz online and in the media that was less than positive for their company. From a Yelp employee who complained about her low paycheck on the story sharing website Medium, to a Taco Bell worker who tweeted pictures of himself urinating on food, to a cop who posted Vines while he stole cocaine from the evidence room. This is the kind of negative attention companies could do without.
Some companies, however, understand how to use their employees’ communication power to their advantage. As Rachel Miller revealed in a post on the Influence website, even an organisation that handles sensitive matters, Great Britain’s National Health Service, has taken the initiative.
In her blog, Miller highlights a pertinent quote from Dean Royles, ex-chief executive of NHS Employers — “We trust our employees with patients’ lives. Why wouldn’t we trust them with social media?”
The NHS encourages its employees, and even patients, to communicate on all social media. But it has also been smart enough to provide employees with a comprehensive guide and videos on how to do it.
Social media takeover
Other companies take it one step further by letting their employees take care of the corporate social media account. Just as we have seen big brands experimenting with giving celebrities access to the corporate Instagram account, companies are giving the same accessibility to their employees.
For example, IT company Cisco recently launched a snapchat takeover by their employees. Employees got the chance to post their story on the official Cisco account, wearecisco.
“We’ve had a 600 percent follower increase week-over-week since the launch. We’ve seen 70-80 percent rate of story completion (clicking through from start to finish on each story) and our reach continues to grow,” says Carmen Shirkey Collins, the social media manager at Cisco on her blog post about the takeover.
Danske Bank, the largest bank in Denmark, uses employee takeovers of its Instagram account, @danske_bank_careers, so that customers and prospective employees can learn more about the bank’s culture.
Is it time to fire the spokesperson?
With journalists always on the lookout for real stories, and employees being increasingly trusted to share their stories, it is only a matter of time until employees become the main spokespersons for their companies in more traditional media. Does this mean you have to fire your official spokesperson, or even the entire communications department? Probably not.
In crisis situations, you will still need a single point of contact who has the correct and most up-to-date information. As you’ve seen, employees do go off the rails at times. They need guidance more than ever. The NHS Twitter education is a perfect example of how it should be done.
External and internal communication guidelines and strategies are becoming more aligned. The company spokesperson is an in-house communication hero who educates employees on how to communicate to the press, organizes external communication strategy and develops social media newsrooms with shareable media assets. Often, your communication hero will share corporate stories and messages with the employees before sharing them with the press.
What it comes down to is that journalists are looking for genuine stories, and they are increasingly seeking these from social media rather than from traditional communication channels. It can only be a good thing for companies to embrace this change and encourage employee advocacy.
This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.